Does your team tend to get off to a slow start?

I know I’ve had teams do that. During the 2012-13 season I coached a women’s team in Division I of the English NVL. It seemed like every set we struggled at the beginning for some reason. You can get away with that when you’re clearly the stronger team. It can really put you in a bind against more competitive teams, though. I decided to try to do something about it.

Breaking the game up

Back in the olden days, when it was sideout scoring and matches were played to 15 points, coaches sometimes encouraged their teams to break games (we didn’t call them “sets” then) into segments. Each segment was 5 points. Some coaches went so far as to have different approaches or focal points for each of those segments.

At the time, the NVL incorporated a technical timeout when the first team reached 8 points, and again when at 16. Essentially, they chopped each set into three segments, just as coaches did with the 5-point ones before.

The idea of segmenting a set is something that came up in my Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview with Mike Lingenfelter.

Using segments to start better

Taking a page out of the old coaching book, I decided to use the segment idea. I thought it could be a way to improve how the team started each set in terms of focus and performance. I basically turned it into a mini game and challenged them to be the first team to 8 points.

It worked quite well.

We didn’t always win that initial mini game, of course. We did consistently play with much more concentration and intensity in those early points than we had done, though. I used the same technique with my university teams at times when I thought they’d benefit from a bit more early-set focus, even if they weren’t necessarily slow starters. When I had a similar issue with my Svedala team I thought of this idea as well.

Make sure to look for causes

Of course if a team consistently struggles with slow starts then make sure to analyze why that is. Does it reflect warm-ups? Is it something in the pregame talk? Is there an issue in how the team trains? Using these mini games may help, but they aren’t a long-term fix if there’s some other underlying issue which needs to be addressed.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

    1 Response to "Handling slow starts with First to…"

    • Kelly Daniels

      John, Good article. I use this same scoring technique with my teams. I started using this type of scoring technique because as a referee I happen to notice which team had an advantage based from scoring specific points throughout the game. One year during club season right before I came on to the court I stated the scoring for the teams. I noticed with the teams I was officiating the results would be the same. Based on my analysis teams that scored 5-8-13-15-18-23 for the most part won the set. When the teams stayed neck in neck throughout the set the team who reached 23 first sometimes did not win the set when both teams were equally competitive.
      Now I have a scoring sheet that I use and highlight these point positions. The athletes know of these mini scores and uses them to stay focus.
      Keep the info flowing and have a fantastic holiday!

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